Consortium of:

Ritual Music and Indigenous/Ancestral Religions

  August 27th 2020

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On July 23, 2020, the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) held the 12th Forum Kamisan Daring, an online seminar in cooperation with CRCS and other organizations such as Komnas Perempuan, Pusad Paramadina, LIPI, and Satunama. The discussion of the 12th edition of this forum was music in the rituals of indigenous religions. There were three speakers representing different indigenous groups: Sukirman R, adherent of Kaharingan, Kalimantan; Gin-Gin Akil, adherent of Ngertakeun Bumi Lamba in West Java; and Fredy Wowor, adherent of Waraney Wuaya, from Minahasa, North Sulawesi. Nyak Ina Raseuki (Ubiet), a singer and lecturer at Institut Kesenian Jakarta (IKJ), acted as respondent for the presentations. Furthermore, the moderator of this online seminar was Sario Oktafiana, doctoral student of Katholieke Universiteit (KU) Leuven, Belgium.

The first presenter, Sukirman, explained the importance of musical instruments in Kaharingan’s rituals. There is one ritual, Bebelian, which is conducted to offer petitions and prayers to God, the creator of the universe, who they call Nining Bahatara. According to Sukirman, if the ritual conducted for one day (the ritual may also be held for two days or more), they use two musical instruments, like gendang and gamelan. If the ritual is conducted for two days, for instance after the harvest time and before the consumption of the rice, they conduct the Bebelian ritual as a symbol of gratitude to Nining Bahatari. In this two-day form of the ritual, they use a gamelan with a special tone and rhythm. Ritual music is also used as a source of healing.

Interestingly, in Kaharingan ritual, there are many steps for prayer because Nining Bahatari has many representations in nature, known to the Kaharingan as penjaga or guardians. There is the guardian of the forest, the guardian of the sea, the guardian of farmland, among others. The ritual prayers should address all the various guardians of the natural world. And, prior to these prayers to Nining Batahari, the ancestors should be addressed. Sukirman believes that every person should relate to nature, to the ancestors, and others in harmony as part of their relationship with the Creator. In all these rituals, music plays an important role in helping the Kaharingan pay their respects. 

The second speaker was Gin-Gin Akil, an adherent of Ngertakeun Bumi Lamba from West Java. He started his presentation by performing a musical prayer ritual named ngarajah. Gin-Gin Akil explained that music is the most beautiful way to express the spirituality and gratitude toward nature and God. There are many musical instruments which are used in the Ngertakeun Bumi Lamba rituals, including: Jentreng, is a harp-like instrument with seven strings; Tarawang/Tarawangsa), is a stringed instrument that has two strings made of steel or iron; Celempung, a stringed instrument with 13 pairs of strings, stretched both sides between the resonator box; and Karinding, a traditional Sundanese musical instrument from West Java and Banten, played by flicking the tip of the index finger while taped to the lips.

Gin-Gin Akil pointed out that all the name of these instruments end in NG which can be interpreted as Ngabaktikeun or a dedicated life for goodness. About Karinding, Gin-Gin Akil explained that the manner by which the instrument is played can be interpreted as holding faith toward the One and Only God, patiently and with awareness. Faith empowers people to live their life in gratitude and work diligently, to preserve the noble values from the ancestors, and practice harmonious relations with nature and others.

The third speaker was Fredi Wowor, an adherent of Waraney Wuaya, from Minahasa, North Sulawesi. According to Wowor, music is the most basic and profound language of every effort to greet God. Music for the Minahasa people is the sound or vibration of the soul. Approaching God with the language of music can touch the eyes of the heart and the eyes of the mind. The Minahasa people see the ritual as brining the deepest sense of the presence of God and ancestors and the body is the medium. People express their conscience through poems, and interpret poems expressed by ancestors. Music is a bridge to convey the desires of the heart and gratitude. God is the pulse of life itself. Humans need to align themselves with God and nature. Music is the sound that harmonizes the rhythm of the human soul with nature and God. The vibration of this music is expected to be in contact with God, the universe and all beings.

Lastly, Nyak Ina Raseuki (Ubiet), lecturer at Institut Kesenian Jakarta (IKJ) responded that the term music may be defined and understood differently in different contexts within society. However, music is inseparable with the spiritual life of indigenous peoples in Indonesia. Music in rituals is useful as a bridge to connect humans to God, nature, and the ancestors and it is considered as sacred by these groups. Therefore, Nyak Ina Raseuki encouraged all parties, indigenous communities, and even the government to participate in preserving musical rituals as part of Indonesia’s cultural heritage.